Performance Improvement: Stages, Steps and Tools
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Performance Improvement Toolkit
Find Root Causes

Step 1: Conduct root cause analysis

Perhaps the most critical step in the PI process is identifying the root causes you will address with appropriate interventions. Root-cause analysis should take place immediately following the review of performance gaps with the same stakeholder group that helped to define desired performance. The outcome should be the identification of a root cause for each gap observed.

There are a number of good root-cause analysis tools available to use with the stakeholder group. These include the fishbone diagram, relationship mapping, the why-why-why technique, the why-tree process and many others. Select the tool that you are most comfortable with and that you think will work best with your stakeholder group. In our experience, the why-tree process is easy for groups to understand and a practical way to facilitate tool selection.

Regardless of the tool you select, be prepared to uncover numerous root causes—probably more than you can address within the parameters of your project. The process for identifying the root causes should not be curtailed, however, even though you may not be able to address all of them with specific interventions. Causes that initially seem obvious may not be the only root causes, and it is common to discover other related causes that may be easier to address than you suspect. For this reason, it is important to pursue all lines of investigation to the fullest and then use predefined criteria for eliminating causes not to be addressed before selecting the appropriate interventions.

As stated in the introduction, all root causes can be mapped directly to the absence of one of the five key performance factors:

  1. Clear job expectations
  2. Clear and immediate performance feedback
  3. Adequate physical environment, including proper tools, supplies and workspace
  4. Motivation and incentives to perform as expected
  5. Skills and knowledge required for the job.

There are two advantages in anchoring root causes to performance factors: (a) interventions become clear and more focused; (b) the root causes closest to the performer and his or her work environment are identified. For interventions to be sustainable, you—and the performer—must be able to address these root causes.